MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 03: Vonn Bell #11 of the Ohio State Buckeyes intercepts a pass thrown by Tajh Boyd #10 of the Clemson Tigers in the second quarter during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT SAFEY
During the offseason, Tampa Bay re-signed safeties Chris Conte and Keith Tandy while tendering Bradley McDougald, with a second-round tag. Conte, signed away from Chicago in 2015 on a one-year deal, had arguably the best season of any player in the secondary, totaling 79 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 13 starts, the most impressive stat of all for the safety with a history of injuries. General manager Jason Licht rewarded his efforts with another one-year deal.
As for McDougald, the 25-year old pro, like Conte, showed a willingness to play physical against the run and finished with 87 tackles in 2015. While he wasn’t quite as reliable against the pass as Tampa Bay hoped he would become following a promising 2014 campaign, he did have two interceptions, including a game-winner against Dallas, and showed enough upside and ability to keep around for at least another year. It stands to reason that Conte and McDougald will be penciled in as the starters come training camp, so long as Tampa Bay doesn’t draft a safety in the first three rounds next week.
Depth is an area that could probably be improved, however. While Keith Tandy proved his value on special teams and finished the last two games of the season at safety strong, earning another year in Tampa Bay, Major Wright’s future with the Bucs seems a little more uncertain. Wright, who was initially brought to Tampa due to his connections with Lovie Smith, started just two games after a serious injury in Week 1, one that gave way to Chris Conte. In nine games with two starts, Wright had 25 tackles and three pass deflections. He’ll likely be competing for a spot on the active roster during training camp.
And finally, rounding out the Bucs’ safeties currently are Kimario McFadden and Gerod Holliman. After bouncing around on practice squads since going undrafted in 2014, McFadden was signed and then cut and eventually re-signed to the Bucs’ squad in December. He has two career tackles – both with the Bucs – and figures to be competing for a reserve role and special teams duties in 2016. As for Holliman, the Miami native and Louisville grad was drafted in the seventh round by Pittsburgh in 2015. Holliman was the Jim Thorpe Award recipient in 2014, as well as a unanimous All-American. He, too, will likely be fighting for a backup role and special teams spot at camp.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT SAFETY
Although no one outside the walls of One Buc Place can truly get an idea for what’s to come next week, it seems entirely possible that the Bucs could grab a safety in rounds two or three, given that a prospect they like slips. With the exception of Jalen Ramsey –who will likely be taken in the first five picks – no safety in this draft class would seem to warrant a Top 15 selection, making the first round a place to address other, more imminent needs.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT S (EARLY 1-4)
Vonn Bell – Ohio State – Junior – 5-11, 199 – 4.53
A two-year starter at safety, Bell played a lot of single-high and nickel while proving to be one of the Buckeye’s best playmakers. Over two seasons, Bell, known for his ability in single coverage, defended 22 passes with nine interceptions in 28 starts. While Bell didn’t fare as well against the run, his athleticism and fluidity should keep him in the top two rounds of the draft. For what it’s worth, Urban Meyer, who coached Reggie Nelson and Will Hill, among others, called Bell “as good as I’ve ever had” at safety.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT S (LATE 5-7)
Sean Davis – Maryland – Senior – 6-1, 201 – 4.44
A cornerback by trade, Davis is an intimidating hitter and productive tackler on defense. In 50 career games, he recorded 313 tackles while tying for second in college football with five forced fumbles in 2015. While Davis is not described as the most fluid cornerback (explains the transition to safety), he still tied for the team-lead in pass breakups as a junior with eight. The versatile defender will likely be selected in the second or third round.
TOP 10 SAFETIES
1. Jalen Ramsey – Florida State – Junior – 6-1, 209 – 4.37
Regarded by some as the best overall player in the 2016 draft, Ramsey will almost certainly be gone after the Top 5 picks. The versatile defender – skilled cornerback and safety and even played linebacker in nickel D – led the Seminoles in pass breakups with 10 in 2014 and 2015, earning first-team All-ACC honors. It’s hard to find a negative evaluation of the FSU football and track star, and for that reason, Jameis Winston will likely get to keep his entire salary.
2. Karl Joseph – West Virginia – Senior – 5-10, 205 – 4.57
Before suffering a season-ending injury in October last year, Joseph entered 2015 already with three seasons of starting experience and was tied for the FBS lead in interceptions with five. As a junior, Joseph was a first-team All-Big 12 selection after recording 92 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and three forced fumbles in 13 games. While he doesn’t have ideal size, he’s said to be pound-for-pound one of the most physical players in the country. Joseph, one of SR’s favorite players (draws comparisons to Eric Berry and Earl Thomas), will likely be a late first- or second-round pick.
3. Vonn Bell – Ohio State – Junior – 5-11, 199 – 4.53
An pulled hamstring kept Bell out of the Combine, but an impressive two seasons at Ohio State will presumably keep him in the top two rounds. A good-sized safety with the fluidity and coverage instincts of a corner, Bell seems to be a good fit in Mike Smith’s defense.
4. Keanu Neal – Florida – Junior – 6-0, 211 – 4.56
Neal finished as the Gators’ third-leading tackler in 2015 with 96, finishing his career with a combined 134 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He’s known for his physicality and explosion, but is seen by some as a one-speed athlete with little burst. Nonetheless, Neal stood out on an impressive Florida defense, one that’s produced multiple starting NFL safeties the past few years, and will likely be taken in the early second round.
5. Jeremy Cash – Duke – Senior – 6-0, 212 – 4.56
Another versatile safety who’s played nickel cornerback, Cash is also physical defender. After transferring from Ohio State, he went on to have three consecutive 100-tackle seasons at Duke, including 101 as a senior with 18 for loss. For his efforts, Cash earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American honors. He figures to be a third-round selection in the draft.
6. T.J. Green – Clemson – Senior – 6-2, 209 – 4.34
Initially a wide receiver, Green, one of the draft’s fastest players, moved to safety his sophomore year and it paid huge dividends for Clemson by 2015. Green tallied 95 tackles, 5.5 for loss, broke up three passes and forced two fumbles during Clemson’s 14-1 season. Combined with Jayron Kearse, the duo formed one of the best safety tandems in college football. Green is generally considered a second-round option.
7. Darian Thompson – Boise State – Senior – 6-2, 208 – 4.69
After picking off seven passes in 2014, Thompson added five more in just 11 games in 2015, finishing with a career 19 picks. The All-American safety proved himself as a physical presence too, evidenced by his 242 career tackles, many of them in space. While scouts question his instincts in coverage at times, he’s typically seen as one of the most complete safeties in the draft and will likely be taken by the third or fourth round.
8. Kevin Byard – Middle Tennessee – Senior – 5-11, 212 – 4.46
With 19 career inceptions in 51 games for the Blue Raiders, Byard got recognition in spite of coming from a small school. He’s a four-time All-Conference choice, with an imposing frame and gifted ability in deep coverage. His height and the legitimacy of his collegiate competition will likely keep him as a third- or fourth-round option, though still impressive for a Middle Tennessee product.
9. Miles Killebrew – Southern Utah – Senior – 6-2, 217 – 4.58
Another small-school standout, who impressed at the Senior Bowl, Killebrew racked up an impressive 243 tackles over two seasons, including 132 as a senior. He also had 14 pass deflections in 2015. One scout reportedly told Daniel Jeremiah that Killebrew is better out of college than Shaq Thompson, the 2015 first-round pick of the Panthers. While he’s well built, he’s been said to struggle with control and has tunnel vision at times while defending the pass. Killebrew will probably be a third- or fourth-round pick.
10. Justin Simmons – Boston College – Senior – 6-2, 202 – 4.61
After playing both safety and cornerback in 2014, Simmons became a full-time centerfielder and finished with five interceptions in 12 games. Simmons had an impressive week at the East-West Shrine, earning a third- or fourth-round projection.
BEST OF THE REST AT SAFETY
11. DeAndre Houston-Carson – William & Mary – Senior – 6-1, 201 – 4.54
Houston-Carson turned from all-conference cornerback, where he started for three seasons, before shifting to safety and becoming an All-American at the position. He finished his career with 292 tackles and 10 interceptions en route to a Senior Bowl invite. The small-school product will likely be an early Day 3 selection.
12. Tyvis Powell – Ohio State – Junior – 6-3, 211 – 4.46
Powell was honorable mention All-Big 10, finishing with 71 tackles and three interceptions in 2015. While long and rangy, Powell is said to lack acceleration and will probably be a fifth-round pick.
13. Kavon Frazier – Central Michigan – Senior – 6-0, 217 – 4.58
For his career, Frazier recorded five interceptions and 269 tackles. He was named to the 2015 All-MAC second-team and was Defensive Player of the Week against Oklahoma State after recording 13 tackles. Frazier’s shortcomings in coverage at times, and small school background, will keep him as a Day 3 pick.
14. Deiondre’ Hall – Northern Iowa – Senior – 6-2, 199 – 4.62
After a season in 2014 in which he recorded 74 tackles and five interceptions, Hall saw those numbers increase, with 82 and six in each respective category. He started 46 career games in total at Northern Iowa, and enters the draft as a late-round prospect.
15. Deon Bush – Miami (FLA) – Senior – 6-0, 199 – 4.64
Plagued by injuries in 2015, Bush entered his senior year as one of the top safety prospects. In 2014, he finished with 53 tackles, four for loss, with two sacks and two interceptions in 11 starts. Although pedestrian in coverage at times, scouts believe he has upside and could be a steal in the sixth or seventh-round Thursday.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m hoping that the Bucs could pick up Bell in the second. I like Cash as well; but would love it if the Bucs took a chance on Deon Bush in the later rounds. His talent was wasted at Miami with a terrible defensive scheme that they ran down there for the last half decade. He’s shine on a real defense.
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